Life & Style Weekend - - GARDEN - GREEN THUMB WORDS: MA­REE CUR­RAN Got a gar­den­ing ques­tion? Email ma­[email protected]­nat­by­ron.com.au

Aus­tralian wild­flow­ers are grown com­mer­cially as cut flow­ers both here at home and in coun­tries in­clud­ing Italy, Por­tu­gal, South Africa, Is­rael and the USA. They are hugely im­por­tant in­ter­na­tion­ally and the best-seller of them all is the ger­ald­ton wax (Chame­lau­cium spp).

These beau­ti­ful shrubs come from West­ern Aus­tralia, where they oc­cur nat­u­rally on and near the coast from Perth up to just north of Ger­ald­ton.

They grow to about 2m tall, with many slen­der branches bear­ing fine, nee­dle-like fo­liage. The over­all ef­fect is quite soft and wispy. They flower in late win­ter and spring, when each of those wispy branches be­comes cov­ered in sim­ple, five-petalled flow­ers about 1–1.5cm in di­am­e­ter, in shades of white, pink or mauve.

Although they are from West­ern

Aus­tralia, they will also grow in coastal

NSW and South­east and Cen­tral Queens­land if con­di­tions are right.

For ger­ald­ton wax, this means well-drained light to medium soil in a sunny or par­tially shaded po­si­tion. Very sandy soil should be en­riched with or­ganic mat­ter be­fore plant­ing. They will not sur­vive in heavy or wa­ter-logged soil but will grow well in pots.

Avoid the temp­ta­tion to over-pot or choose a pot that is too large for the plant. This makes it hard to con­trol the mois­ture con­tent and can lead to over-wet ar­eas, which will in­crease the risk of root rot. The ideal pot size would be no more than twice the size of the one the plant is cur­rently in.

Most of the va­ri­eties on the east coast are hy­brids, bred for larger blooms, heavy flow­er­ing, com­pact growth and longevity.

Strawberry Sur­prise is a mid-pink va­ri­ety fea­tur­ing a pretty frilly pe­tal for­ma­tion. Chan­tilly Lace has frilly white flow­ers with a crisp lime-green cen­tre. Sarah’s De­light has vi­brant pink blooms with a crim­son cen­tre. My Sweet Six­teen is par­tic­u­larly lovely, with masses of pure white flow­ers ma­tur­ing to a rich red shade, so all shades ap­pear at once when the plant is in bloom. There are heaps of oth­ers and all are beau­ti­ful.

Ger­ald­ton wax re­sponds re­ally well to prun­ing. The best time to do this is in spring, im­me­di­ately after flow­er­ing. You can prune quite hard, tak­ing off about a third each year. Of course, you can “pick to prune”, re­mov­ing stems when they are in bloom and en­joy­ing them in a vase, where they will last for up to 12 days. Never prune back into old wood with no green growth as this will al­most cer­tainly kill the plant.

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